C.O.C.O. is the result of two funk-loving roommates, Olivia Ness (vocals, bass) and Chris Sutton (vocals, drums), deciding to create something new out of their love for the old-school grooves of Sly & the Family Stone, the Meters, and E.S.G. Sutton had already been playing bass for Dub Narcotic Sound System for a few years when he and Ness formed C.O.C.O. in 2000. Ness, meanwhile, had only taught herself to play bass a year before (and had previously put those newfound skills to use in now-defunct local band Decoy Decoy). The two instantly became part of a longstanding musical tradition in Olympia, WA -- no, not just the independent-minded D.I.Y. spirit that permeates the state capitol -- but the tradition of the duo as practiced by such K notables as Kicking Giant, the Softies, and the Need.
According to Sutton, C.O.C.O. was "born of beats and blood." He supplies the beats -- specifically the breakbeat -- via his polyrhythmic drumming, while Ness provides "all things soulful" via her floor-shaking bass vibrations ("the blood") and her sensual yet feisty vocals. Aside from their many funk influences, C.O.C.O. has also claimed as inspiration for their energetic, stripped-down sound such diverse artists as Can, Talking Heads, and the B-52's and such genres/labels as Motown, disco, and punk. Their mission is to provide a minimalist, organic alternative to more digitally oriented dance music like techno and electronica. The vocal interplay between Ness, who sings, and Sutton, who speaks his lyrics, is reminiscent of Tom Tom Club and, more recently, King Kong and Call & Response. (Despite their interest in reggae and hip-hop, the duo avoids rapping and toasting, for the most part.) Listen closely, and you might even hear the ghosts of such African-influenced, dub-obsessed Brits of the 1970s and 1980s as the Slits, the Pop Group, and PiL.
C.O.C.O. quickly established a unique identity, even in the midst of one of the Northwest's most vibrant musical communities. After months of basement jamming, they got their live start by playing at a house party, just like their heroes the Gories (who even named their second burst of lo-fi blues-rock, Houserockin'). Their next gig was a small show (of less than ten people) with singer/songwriter Dennis Driscoll. Sutton's DNSS bandmate and K Records co-founder Calvin Johnson just happened to be in the audience. He liked what he heard and invited the duo to record at his Dub Narcotic studio. Although they had only played two shows by that point, they decided to take him up on the offer and laid their raw exuberance down on wax for the world to hear. C.O.C.O. was so green at the time, in fact, that one of the tracks had only been written the day before and the vocal parts for two others were written on the spot. A mere two days later, they were finished -- and itching to take their show on the road. Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney also liked what she heard and invited them to join her trio on the eastern portion of their fall U.S. tour.
Ness and Sutton's full-length debut, C.O.C.O. was released shortly afterward in October 2000. Two years later, the dynamic duo returned with their more accomplished follow-up, The C.O.C.O. Sound, a tasty combination of angular Au Pairs-styled post-punk and sultry Luscious Jackson-styled alternative pop -- short sonic blasts with primal beats, slinky vocals, and J.B.'s-styled shout-outs for spice. After a five-year hiatus, C.O.C.O. resurfaced on September 11, 2007, with Play Drums + Bass. Once again, Ness and Sutton hit the road in order to get the bodies moving and to keep the boisterous spirit of old-school funk alive. ~ Kathleen C. Fennessy, Rovi